GEORGETOWN, Texas — A former district attorney acted improperly when he prosecuted an innocent man who spent nearly 25 years in prison, a Texas judge ruled Friday as he ordered the former prosecutor's arrest on criminal contempt and tampering charges.
Ken Anderson was in the courtroom as Judge Louis Sturns issued his ruling and turned himself in afterward. Sturns said there was sufficient evidence that Anderson was guilty on all three charges brought against him for his handling of the case against Michael Morton: criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records.
"Mr. Anderson consciously chose to conceal the availability of the exculpatory evidence so he could convict Mr. Morton for murder," Sturns said. "This court cannot think of a more intrinsically harmful act than a prosecutor's intentional choice to hide evidence so as to convict a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence."
Morton, 58, was released from prison in October 2011 after new DNA tests showed he did not fatally beat his wife, Christine, in their north Austin home in 1986. Another man has been arrested for the killing. Anderson, who has been a judge in Williamson County since 2002, has apologized to Morton for what he called failures in the system but said he believes there was no misconduct in the case.
Anderson sat motionless as Sturns' issued his ruling, leaning forward on his elbows. He then surrendered at the courthouse, where he now serves as an elected district court judge. Anderson's lawyer, Eric Nichols, said he plans to appeal the decision and said he believes the judge overstepped his authority.
Morton, dressed in a gray sport jacket, listened intently to the proceedings.
"I don't want Ken Anderson's head on a stick, and that's true, but the system is going to do what it's going to do," he said. "We can't change the past, but we can prevent this from happening again."
Attorney Rusty Hardin, who served as the fact-finder in the Court of Inquiry, said Sturns granted Anderson $2,500 bond on each count. No trial date was set.
The special court is a rarely used hearing that is held when officials or public servants are accused of wrongdoing. The process is similar to a grand jury proceeding, but people can defend themselves against the evidence presented.
During the weeklong Court of Inquiry, the special prosecutor, Houston defense attorney Rusty Hardin, presented witness testimony and other evidence to show Anderson kept evidence from Morton's attorneys at his trial.
Among the evidence Morton's attorneys claim was kept from them were statements from Morton's then-3-year-old son, who witnessed the murder and said his father wasn't responsible and interviews with neighbors who told authorities they saw a man park a green van close the Morton home and walk into a nearby wooded area before the slaying.
In a videotaped deposition played during the Court of Inquiry, Anderson said he couldn't remember if he had evidence at the time of the trial that could have cleared Morton, but if he had had such material, he would have turned it over to the defense team.
The new DNA tests, which were conducted on a bloody bandanna found near the Mortons' home, pointed to another suspect, Mark Alan Norwood, who was arrested for the killing in November 2011 and found guilty of murder. Norwood also has been indicted in the 1988 slaying of an Austin woman who lived near the Mortons.
Anderson also is being sued by the State Bar of Texas for his conduct in the Morton case.